Do You Play Contra? Here are 10 Things You Should Know

Contra is a classic run-and-gun arcade game that was developed by Konami and originally released in 1987. The game quickly became popular due to its fast-paced, side-scrolling gameplay, great graphics and music, and two-player cooperative mode. Contra has remained a popular franchise over the decades, influencing many other games and becoming a beloved title for retro gamers.

Whether you are new to Contra or a longtime fan, here are ten interesting things you should know about this iconic 80s game.

The Origins of Contra

Contra was originally released as a coin-operated arcade game by Konami in 1987. It was designed by a team led by Shigeo Komori and Hiroshi Izawa. The inspiration came from action movies like Rambo, Aliens, and Commando,which were popular in the 80s.

The working title was simply “Arcade Game” before it was changed to Contra. The name is a shortened version of “Commando War,” which ties into the military theme. Contra became a huge success in the arcades and was ported over to several home gaming consoles shortly after, including the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The Contra Cheat Code

One of the most famous aspects of Contra is the legendary Konami cheat code. On the NES version, entering the code “Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A” at the title screen gave the player 30 lives instead of the usual 3. This allowed less skilled players to get much further in the game.

The Konami code has since become a popular Easter egg and has been included in various games over the years. It originated from Konami’s Gradius arcade game in 1986 and was reused in Contra as a handy cheat.

For those looking to enhance their gameplay or discover more tricks, some dedicated resources and websites focused on contra cheats provide a comprehensive list of codes and hidden secrets. Exploring these cheats can offer players new strategies and a fresh approach to tackling the game’s challenges.

The Setting and Story

Contra takes place in the fictional Galuga archipelago near New Zealand in the year 2633. What’s the story? Well, an evil alien entity known as Red Falcon wants to take over the Earth. Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, two commandos from the Contra force, are sent in to destroy the enemy bases and save humanity.

The simple good vs. evil storyline captured the spirit of 80s action movies but was mainly there to set up the shooting gameplay. The Japanese versions replaced Bill and Lance with new protagonists to better fit their audience.

The Iconic Weaponry

A major appeal of Contra was its variety of unique and powerful weapons that could be picked up.

  • The standard rifle could become a laser, flamethrower, or powerful spread gun.
  • The “fireball gun” shot bouncing fireballs while the homing gun automatically targeted enemies.
  • Power-ups like the Rapid Bullets and Barrier increased your firepower or defense.

Smart use of the weapons was key to surviving the onslaught of enemies. The iconic Spread Gun that shoots both horizontally and vertically became synonymous with Contra.

Memorable Bosses and Enemies

Contra stood out with large and memorable boss battles at the end of each stage. Some highlights include the massive alien worm that tunnels beneath you, the wall-climbing alien tick, and the iconic final fight against the alien heart itself.

Enemies included hovering turrets, jumping frogmen, flying dragon robots, and plenty of alien creatures. Their smooth animations and designs contributed to Contra’s great visual presentation. Later games in the series continued to feature impressive boss fights.

The Difficulty Level

Contra gained a reputation for being extremely difficult, especially the Japanese version. The combination of fast gameplay, intelligent enemies, and one-hit deaths challenged even the most skilled gamers. Limited lives meant starting over from the beginning after losing all your lives.

The American NES version was made slightly easier by reducing the enemy hitpoints and giving the player more lives. But Contra still remained a tough game compared to others at the time. Completing it gave players a real sense of accomplishment.

Multiplayer Mayhem

A major part of the appeal was the 2-player cooperative gameplay, allowing you to team up with a friend. This was a relative rarity for NES games of the era. Having two players made Contra more manageable and fun, as you could watch each other’s backs.

However, it also led to competition for weapon power-ups and bragging rights over who survived longer. Later console releases even supported up to 4 players.

Memorable Music and Sounds

Contra’s soundtrack had an upbeat, catchy quality that perfectly matched the frantic action. The intro music, Stage 1 Jungle theme, and Boss theme have become beloved classics. The Japanese soundtrack was slightly different, with more complexity and drum samples.

The sound effects were simple but very effective, like the iconic rapid-firing sound of the spread gun. They emphasized the impact of the weapons and destruction on screen. Contra’s audio design was important in making the experience feel so dynamic.

Legacy and Influence

Contra was one of the most popular NES games and a milestone for the run-and-gun genre. It directly influenced design elements in games like Metal Slug, Broforce, and Cuphead.

Contra III: The Alien Wars on SNES is considered one of the best run and guns ever made. The Contra franchise lives on, with over 20 games released to date. The series has retained popularity due to its simple core gameplay, cooperative modes, and over-the-top weaponry and action.

Speedrunning and Records

Like many popular retro games, Contra became a favorite for speedrunning competitions. The current world record for finishing the NES version stands at just over 4 minutes and 30 seconds, an incredible feat.


Contra stands out as one of the most iconic arcade and NES games from the 80s. Its smooth run-and-gun gameplay, cinema-inspired action, memorable characters and weapons, rocking soundtrack, and multiplayer modes made it hugely popular. Contra combined great design, technical prowess, and endless replayability that many games still aspire to today. It remains a milestone in gaming history that all fans of retro classics should experience. Over 30 years later, Contra’s action-packed gameplay still shines as an all-time classic in the gaming world.

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